Key takeaways from PRWeek NEXT Conference

The dust has settled on the 4th annual PRWeek NEXT Conference, which took place at The TimesCenter in New York City last week.

The dust has settled on the 4th annual PRWeek NEXT Conference, which took place at The TimesCenter in New York City last week.

Delegates were treated to a thought-provoking program of high-level keynote speeches, panel discussions, interactive roundtables, and numerous networking opportunities.

It's difficult to summarize such a rich event but here are a few takeaways I gleaned from the day and a half of content:

  • PR still has a tendency to define itself in terms of the advertising industry. We need to reframe the debate and look forwards instead of sideways. That way the industry can persuade CMO speakers such as PepsiCo's Simon Lowden that a PR firm is perfectly capable of coming up with the “big idea” and leading a high-profile CPG marketing communications plan.
  • Don't underestimate the power of a super-confident presenter, an MBA, and a slick PowerPoint presentation. At no time were notes being scribbled down more furiously than during Sheila Bonini from McKinsey's session. You can guarantee Sheila isn't wasting time worrying about what advertising agencies are doing when she's providing strategic counsel to her clients.
  • Sean Cochrane from Forrester provided a level of insight into social media that illustrated one of the drivers behind clients increasingly dealing directly with research firms when putting together their social media strategies.
  • Mainstream and social media are evolving at a very rapid pace, and companies and brands are becoming effective content producers and media owners in their own right. But don't underestimate the power of mainstream media owners. They may still sometimes demonstrate Luddite tendencies, but they are embracing and exploiting social media to revolutionize their businesses.
  • “Seat at the table” may be one of the most overused phrases in our canon, but it works because it perfectly describes what PR pros are striving for and, increasingly, achieving.
  • My favorite takeaway was Gil Schwartz's fantastic perspective on why PR needs to be “in front of the elephant and not behind it.” Watch this video and all will become clear. It sums up why communications is now among the most important functions at senior levels of companies and organizations - and also how misrepresented it is in popular media.

But I will end with an upbeat thought from Fred Cook, CEO of GolinHarris, who reminded us all that what the PRWeek NEXT Conference demonstrates in one word is “opportunity.” He added: “It's a great time for our industry and the conversation is about the future and all the things that are in store for people in PR. It's a good harbinger for where we're going and how exciting it's going to be.” Amen to that Fred.

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